Online sportsbooks hit record in NJ amid pandemic and tanking casino industry

Daniel J. Munoz//September 15, 2020//

Online sportsbooks hit record in NJ amid pandemic and tanking casino industry

Daniel J. Munoz//September 15, 2020//

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Despite New Jersey’s nine casinos being open for a second month and patrons allowed to re-enter the brick and mortar facilities, many customers instead opted to wager a record-high $602 million at the state’s online sportsbooks in August.

That’s according to Monday afternoon data from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, the arm of the state government that regulates the gambling and sports betting industry.

Patrons bet just $66 million during that time frame at brick and mortar sportsbooks, situated at eight of Atlantic City’s casinos, Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport, and Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford.

For comparison, patrons bet more than $44 million in August 2019 at the brick and mortar sites, and $249.2 million online, according to DGE data.

Whether that fortune could continue depends widely on how the spread of COVID-19 plays out across the professional leagues in the coming months.

There are dozens of websites spanning seven of the state’s casinos that allow for online sports wagering—which even before the pandemic made up the lion’s share of the state’s sportsbooks.

“Internet gaming win more than doubled compared to the same month last year, providing a dependable revenue stream for the industry as it rebounds,” James Plousis, chairman of the state’s Casino Control Commission, said in a Monday afternoon statement.

Online gambling still did considerably better last month than in August 2019, more than doubling the winnings for the casinos: $41.1 million in August 2019 compared to $87.7 million this past month.

In the first eight months of 2020, casinos took home $597 million in online winnings, a 101 percent increase from the $297 million that the house won between January and August 2019.

Once Gov. Phil Murphy ordered the March 16 closure of brick and mortar establishments at the state’s casinos in a bid to stomp out the spread of COVID-19, all nine found themselves relying on online gambling and sports betting as a lifeboat. However, that did not stop triple-digit losses for many of the establishments during that three-month window. And at the end of August, Borgata Hotel Casino Atlantic City announced plans to lay off nearly 2,300 staff.

Officials at parent company MGM Resorts International said they are hopeful that the resumption of indoor dining may allow them to stave off some of those terminations.

The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City.
The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. – AARON HOUSTON

Only two casinos actually fared well with their winnings on the casino floor: Ocean Casino Resort and Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City, both of which opened in June 2018.

Hard Rock took a 14.5 percent hit compared with august 2019: $32.8 million last month to last year’s $38.4 million.

“The growth of Hard Rock Atlantic City in this market speaks to the strength and stability of our company, especially in this challenging market with difficult operating restrictions,” Hard Rock Atlantic City President Joe Lupo said in a Monday statement.

“We are confident in our future and look forward to continuing to grow and operate our brand with integrity.”

Ocean Casino actually fared better, albeit by 1.4 percent, making $24.3 million on the floor last month compared to $24 million in August 2019. It fared better in July as well—an outlier among the other casinos.

“But every casino on an individual basis saw an increase in casino win in August 2020 compared to the previous month,” said Jane Bokunewicz, coordinator of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute for Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Stockton University, whose main campus is just outside Atlantic City.